Brunswick braces for sewer rate hikes to pay for system upgrade
BRUNSWICK — A $22 million plan to upgrade the town's sewer treatment facility has the Brunswick Sewer District taking extra steps to ensure customers understand why they may face significant rate increases as soon as next year.
The district's Board of Trustees aren't set to vote on a sewer rate hike until at least six months from now. But that increase is estimated up to 13 percent, and would likely be followed by annual increases for the following two years.
The district has already begun trying to educate the public about why the metered sewer rate could increase by around 33 percent over a three-year period.
Leonard Blanchette, the district's general manager, on Monday said the sewer treatment facility at 8 Pine Tree Road was built in the late 1960s and received its last major upgrade in 1991.
He said that's why it's time to upgrade and make the facility more energy efficient.
The cost of the upgrade was calculated by environmental engineering firm Wright Pierce after an analysis of how the district could improve its systems.
Among the laundry list of proposed upgrades is an industrial computer system called "supervisory control and data acquisition," or SCADA.
Blanchette said the system will allow the facility to automatically adjust the use of chemicals to balance acidity levels and disinfect the sewer discharge according to the real-time flow of sewer water.
"It's a labor saver, time saver," he said.
Until the facility can get a SCADA system, Blanchette said, treatment workers will have to continue to manually adjust the use of sodium hypoclorite and sodium hydroxide in response to flow levels shown on the facility's 1991 analog system.
Rep. Charles Priest, D-Brunswick, is chairman of the district Board of Trustees. He said the board is being slow and deliberative with the process because of the impact the project will have on ratepayers.
The earliest he said the board could vote on a rate increase is by mid-2014, but it could take longer because of how the plan comes together.
"My guess is the board is going to want to see what exactly we're going to be paying for and be comfortable with the proposed upgrades to the system," Priest said.
The metered sewer rate has been increased three times in the past 10 years – in 2008, 2010 and this year – by about 17 percent, to the current rate of $46.85 per 1,000 cubic feet.
With the average Brunswick household producing about 8,000 cubic feet annually, that means a total bill of about $374 a year.
When the Board of Trustees votes to hike the rate for the first time to begin supporting the $22 million project costs, the increase could be anywhere between 8 and 13 percent, Priest said.
That means the rate could increase to around $52.94 per 1,000 cubic feet. An average household would pay about $50 more, or about $424 for the entire year.
Similar increases could follow for the next two years.
The district expects to hold several public meetings on the plan next year.